Judicial Positions on Political Reform. Designing common policy scores from judicial text

Abstract

What are the positions of highest courts towards political reforms? In order to answer this question scholarship on the US Supreme Court uses judicial votes but those are often not available in cross-country comparison. We present an approach scaling judicial decisions based on textual features other than votes. In particular, we argue that the legal outcome and tendencies fielded in briefs by scalable political actors can be used to compute a vote-matrix similar to roll call data in legislative studies. With the obtained data we are able to estimate location scores employing a standard two-parameter item-response theory model. Moreover, computing priors from the known manifesto positions of political actors allows to meaningfully anchor the court’s locations in relation to the political positions in one common policy-space. The procedure applies independent of specific judicial systems but to outline the feasibility, we assess 580 senate decisions by the German Federal Constitutional Court. Our computed spatial measures allow for assessing the judiciary’s willingness to align or diverge from the opinion of governing parties and their political reform. Moreover, the measure helps to validate common theoretical expectations which are based on the assumption that courts are strategic (political) actors.

Draft presented at ECPR 2019.

Draft presented at EPSA 2019.

Benjamin G. Engst
Benjamin G. Engst
University of Mannheim
David M. Grundmanns
David M. Grundmanns
University of Mannheim
Thomas Gschwend
Thomas Gschwend
University of Mannheim